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An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person residing in a country other than their native country. In common usage, the term often refers to professionals, skilled workers, or artists taking positions outside their home country, either independently or sent abroad by their employers, who can be companies, universities, governments, or non-governmental organisations. Effectively migrant workers, they usually earn more than they would at home, and less than local employees. However, the term 'expatriate' is also used for retirees and others who have chosen to live outside their native country. Historically, it has also referred to exiles.
These contrast with definitions of other words with a similar meaning, such as:
- 'A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions' (Oxford), or
- 'one that migrates: such as a: a person who moves regularly in order to find work especially in harvesting crops' (Webster's);
The varying use of these terms for different groups of foreigners can thus be seen as implying nuances about wealth, intended length of stay, perceived motives for moving, nationality, and even race. This has caused controversy, with many asserting that the traditional use of the word has had racist connotations. For example, a British national working in Spain or Portugal is commonly referred to as an 'expatriate', whereas a Spanish or Portuguese national working in Britain is referred to as an 'immigrant', thus indicating Anglocentrism.
An older usage of the word expatriate was to refer to an exile. Alternatively, when used as a verb, expatriation can mean the act of someone renouncing allegiance to their native country, as in the preamble to the United States Expatriation Act of 1868 which says, 'the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'
Some neologisms have been coined, including:
- flexpatriate, an employee who often travels internationally for business (see below);
- inpatriate, an employee sent from a foreign subsidiary to work in the country where a business is headquartered;
- rex-pat, a repeat expatriate, often someone who has chosen to return to a foreign country after completing a work assignment;
- sexpat, a sex tourist.
Since antiquity, people have gone to live in foreign countries, whether as diplomats, merchants or missionaries. The numbers of such travellers grew markedly after the 15th century with the dawn of the European colonial period.
Types of expat community
In the 19th century, travel became easier by way of steamship or train. People could more readily choose to live for several years in a foreign country, or be sent there by employers. The table below aims to show significant examples of expatriate communities which have developed since that time:
|Group||Period||Country of origin||Destination||Host country||Notes|
|Australians and New Zealanders in London||1960s-now||Australia/New Zealand||London||United Kingdom|
|Beat Generation||1950s||United States||Tangier||Morocco|
|Beat Generation||1960s||United States||Paris||France||See Beat Hotel.|
|British retirees||1970s–now||United Kingdom||Costa del Sol||Spain||Arguably immigrants if permanent.|
|British retirees||current||United Kingdom||Dordogne||France||Arguably immigrants if permanent.|
|British Raj||1721–1949||United Kingdom||Princely states||India||Arguably colonists.|
|Celebrities and artists||1800s–now||various||Lake Geneva||Switzerland|
|Film-makers||1910s–now||Europe||Los Angeles||United States||"Hollywood"|
|Lost Generation||1920s–30s||United States||Paris||France||See A Moveable Feast.|
|Modernist artists & writers||1870s–1930s||various||French Riviera||France|
|Salarymen||current||Japan||various||See Japanese diaspora|
|Shanghai French Concession||1849–1943||France||Shanghai||China|
|Shanghai International Settlement||1863–1945||United Kingdom||Shanghai||China||Preceded by British Concession|
|Shanghai International Settlement||1863–1945||United States||Shanghai||China||Preceded by American Concession.|
|Tax exiles||1860s(?)–now||various||Monte Carlo||Monaco|
|Third culture kids||current||various||various||Includes 'military brats' and 'diplobrats'.|
After World War II, decolonisation accelerated. However, lifestyles which had developed among European colonials continued to some degree in expatriate communities. Remnants of the old British Empire, for example, can still be seen in the form of gated communities staffed by domestic workers. Social clubs which have survived include the Hash House Harriers and the Royal Selangor. Homesick palates are catered for by specialist food shops, and drinkers can still order a gin and tonic, a pink gin, or a Singapore Sling. Although pith helmets are mostly confined to military ceremonies, civilians still wear white dinner jackets or even Red Sea rig on occasion. The use of curry powder has long since spread to the metropole.
From the 1950s, scheduled flights on jet airliners further increased the speed of international travel. This enabled a hypermobility which led to the jet set, and eventually to global nomads and the concept of a perpetual traveler.
Worldwide distribution of expats
In recent years, terrorist attacks against Westerners have at times curtailed the party lifestyle of some expatriate communities, especially in the Middle East.
The number of expatriates in the world is difficult to determine, since there is no governmental census. The international market research and consulting company Finaccord estimated the number to be 56.8 million in 2017. That would resemble the population of Tanzania or Italy.
In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world population, lived outside their home country.
Many multinational corporations send employees to foreign countries to work in branch offices or subsidiaries. Expatriate employees allow a parent company to more closely control its foreign subsidiaries. They can also improve global coordination.
A 2007 study found the key drivers for expatriates to pursue international careers were: breadth of responsibilities, nature of the international environment (risk and challenge), high levels of autonomy of international posts and cultural differences (rethinking old ways).
However, expatriate professionals and independent expatriate hires are often more expensive than local employees. Expatriate salaries are usually augmented with allowances to compensate for a higher cost of living or hardships associated with a foreign posting. Other expenses may need to be paid, such as health care, housing, or fees at an international school. There is also the cost of moving a family and their belongings. Another problem can be government restrictions in the foreign country.
Spouses may have trouble adjusting due to culture shock, loss of their usual social network, interruptions to their own career, and helping children cope with a new school. These are chief reasons given for foreign assignments ending early. However, a spouse can also act as a source of support for an expatriate professional. Families with children help to bridge the language and culture aspect of the host and home country, while the spouse plays a critical role in balancing the families integration into the culture. Some corporations have begun to include spouses earlier when making decisions about a foreign posting, and offer coaching or adjustment training before a family departs. According to the 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey Report, 88 per cent of spouses resist a proposed move. The most common reasons for refusing an assignment are family concerns and the spouse's career.
Expatriate failure is a term which has been coined for an employee returning prematurely to their home country, or resigning. On average, approximately 7% of expatriates return early. Although a failure rate of 7% may seem low, this percentage fails to take into account those that perform poorly while on assignment or that leave the company entirely, and should therefor be higher in reality. This turnover of employees is especially concerning because a major reason companies send employees on assignment is to develop human capital and create global leaders. When the employee leaves the company during or soon after return, the company is unable to receive a return on investment. When asked what the cost of a premature expatriates return costs a company, 57 MNE's reported an average cost of approximately $225,000 in 2019 USD.
S.K Canhilal and R.G. Shemueli suggest that successful expatriation is driven by a combination of individual, organizational, and context-related factors. Of these factors, the most significant have been outlined as: cross-cultural competences, spousal support, motivational questions, time of assignment, emotional competences, previous international experience language fluency, social relational skills, cultural differences, and organizational recruitment and selection process.
Trends in recent years among business expatriates have included:
- Reluctance by employees to accept foreign assignments, due to spouses also having a career.
- Reluctance by multinational corporations to sponsor overseas assignments, due to increased sensitivity both to costs and to local cultures. It is common for an expat to cost at least 3-4 times more than a comparable local employee.
- Short-term assignments becoming more common. These are assignments of several months to a year which rarely require the expatriate family to move. They can include specific projects, technology transfer, or problem-solving tasks. In 2008, nearly two thirds of international assignments consisted of short-term assignments (greater than one year, typically three years). In 2014, that number fell to just over half.
- Self-initiated expatriation, where individuals themselves arrange a contract to work overseas, rather than being sent by a parent company to a subsidiary. An 'SIE' typically does not require as big a compensation package as does a traditional business expatriate. Also, spouses of SIEs are less reluctant to interrupt their own careers, at a time when dual-career issues are arguably shrinking the pool of willing expatriates.
- Local companies in emerging markets hiring Western managers directly.
- Commuter assignments which involve employees living in one country but travelling to another for work. This usually occurs on a weekly or biweekly rotation, with weekends spent at home.
- Flexpatriates, international business travellers who take a plethora of short trips to locations around the globe for negotiations, meetings, training and conferences. These assignments are usually of several weeks duration each. Their irregular nature can cause stress within a family.
- Increased scholarship and research. For instance, Emerald Group Publishing in 2013 launched The Journal of Global Mobility: The home of expatriate management research.
- Diversity is becoming an important issue not just for management but also mobility teams. Mercer's 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices about the participation of women in the expatriate workforce demonstrates that much has to be done to ensure gender parity and to fight the unconscious bias that limit the participation of minorities in the expatriate workforce. Currently the average percentage of women in the expatriate workforce globally is only 14%.
Another issue with expatriate children is that often when children are raised in a country that is not their passport country, when they go back to their home country or leave their known community, they find themselves lost and without friends or peers to relate to. Children or young adults like this are called third culture kids. This means that they have essentially two cultures within themselves- the country in which they are living and the country they identify with as their passport country. This creates an assortment of issues- including the fact that they do not have an exact culture. Because they are a jumble of cultures, they don't feel as if they have a category in this world. Therefore, this creates a middle zone called the "third culture." The culture is a safe haven for misunderstood expatriate children to reside in.
There are many questions third culture kids face, such as the most commonly struggled with one- "Where are you from?" These types of questions are incredibly difficult for expats to explain. Even expat parents may not be able to answer the burning questions they have been asked by their children. Students living abroad also have to choose schools- often opting for international schools, due to the fact that the environment is an area that is practically a habitat to cultivate understanding between third culture kids. Students going to international schools often feel understood more deeply by going to the school- rather than how understood they would feel at any other school that is on their passport. This is simply because of the subconscious understanding between children who are struggling in the same ways with their identity.
There are also downsides to expatriate life, however. Expatriate life is difficult- it is not for the faint of heart. Because of the trauma of moving from place to place; young children, specifically between the ages 10–15, experience what is called Expat Child Syndrome. Expat Child Syndrome is defined as "..a term that has been coined by psychologists to describe an emotional stress in children caused by a move abroad." Expat Child Syndrome is present in many ways- some visible and some invisible. Some children may be more affected by it than others. The more severe cases include behavior of seclusion, loneliness, withdrawn behavior and uncooperative or even disruptive behavior. Nevertheless, abrupt movement between cultures and communities is uprooting and terrifying for children and young adults.
Literary and screen portrayals
Expatriate milieus are the setting of many novels and short stories, including works by:
- James Baldwin (Giovanni's Room)
- J.G. Ballard (Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes)
- Paul Bowles
- Anthony Burgess (The Malayan Trilogy)
- Joseph Conrad
- Robert Drewe (A Cry in the Jungle Bar)
- Lawrence Durrell
- F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night)
- Ford Madox Ford (The Good Soldier)
- E.M. Forster
- Graham Greene
- Ernest Hemingway
- Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley)
- Michel Houellebecq (Platform)
- Henry James
- Christopher Koch (The Year of Living Dangerously)
- Janice Y. K. Lee (The Expatriates)
- Malcolm Lowry (Under the Volcano)
- W. Somerset Maugham
- George Orwell (Burmese Days)
- Chris Pavone (The Expats)
- Gregory David Roberts (Shantaram)
- Arthur Phillips (Prague)
- Tom Rachman (The Imperfectionists)
- Herman George Scheffauer
- Paul Scott
- Evelyn Waugh (Scoop)
Memoirs of expatriate life include those by authors such as:
- J.G. Ballard (Miracles of Life)
- Bill Bryson (Notes from a Small Island)
- Stephen Clarke (A Year in the Merde)
- Gerald Durrell (My Family and Other Animals)
- Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)
- Laurie Lee (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning)
- Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence)
- Michael Moorcock (Letters from Hollywood)
- Marco Polo (The Travels of Marco Polo)
- Sayyid Qutb (The America That I Have Seen)
Films have also been made about the subject, often dealing with issues of culture shock experienced by expatriates. Examples, grouped by host country, include:
- Austria: The Third Man.
- Cambodia: City of Ghosts.
- China: The Painted Veil.
- France: An American in Paris, Before Sunrise, Charade, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, A Good Year, Killing Zoe, Midnight in Paris, The Moderns, Ninotchka, To Catch a Thief.
- Hong Kong: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.
- India: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Carry On Up the Khyber, Outsourced, A Passage to India.
- Indonesia: The Year of Living Dangerously.
- Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun.
- Japan: Lost in Translation, Mr. Baseball.
- Morocco: Casablanca, Naked Lunch, The Sheltering Sky.
- Spain: Barcelona, Sexy Beast, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
- Saudi Arabia: A Hologram for the King.
- Thailand: The Beach, The King and I.
- Uganda: The Last King of Scotland.
- United Kingdom: The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Straw Dogs.
- United States: Borat, Coming to America, Crocodile Dundee, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, Leningrad Cowboys Go America.
- Unnamed/various: Before Sunrise and sequels, Eat, Pray, Love; The Ugly American; The Wages of Fear.
Television programmes made about expatriate life include comedies, dramas, documentaries and reality series, such as:
- Alien (law)
- Asylum seeker
- Domicile (law)
- Economic migrant
- Ethnic enclave
- Existential migration
- Foreign born
- Foreign worker
- Global mobility
- Human capital flight
- International student
- Migrant worker
- Permanent residency
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